UCL News


A royal guide to Mars

24 October 2006

UCL scientists are enabling the Queen and 1,000 sixth formers to take a three-dimensional virtual flight over the surface of Mars on 24 October 2006.

The UCL scientists and engineers have teamed up with the Open University and Imperial College London to present their 'Rough Guide to Mars' exhibit at Buckingham Palace's Science Day, part of the Queen's 80th birthday celebrations.

The team originally created the exhibit for the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition in July 2006. Using 3D images and research from the European Space Agency's Mars Express Mission, currently orbiting the red planet, visitors will be able to discover the latest information about our planetary neighbour in unprecedented realistic detail.

UCL is providing a 'Geowall' consisting of a large polarised screen and two projectors held on a three-legged gantry. The Geowall will enable Virtual Reality tours to four areas on the Martian surface using unique large area 3D models and terrain-corrected image mosaics created at UCL. A new 3D animation loop has also been created.

Mars Express Co-Investigator Professor Jan-Peter Muller (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory), said: "We will present for the first time 3D guided tours of another planetary surface which allow the visitor to decide where they wish to land and explore the surface."

Located in the State Ballroom, the out-of-this-world experience will also consist of a large graphic pop-up display, a Mars meteorite, and a scale model of the Mars Express craft. Some 1,000 sixth form students and their teachers will visit the exhibition during the day followed by distinguished scientists and members of the Royal family.

For those not attending the Science Day, virtual flyovers can also be seen on the team's 'Life on Mars' website, along with the latest news from Mars Express. 

Europe's first-ever space mission to another planet entered the orbit of Mars successfully on Christmas Day 2003, and since January 2004 the high resolution stereo camera on board has been taking a massive number of detailed surface images.

The 3D information means that, for the first time, scientists are able to make geological and geomorphological measurements just as geologists do on the Earth. The images also provide a wealth of information on past climate and water, as well as the relative ages of the surface from crater measurements on Mars, the evolution of volcanism, potential resources, characteristics of present and future landing sites, and observations of Mars' two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos. With 3D images received from Mars Express, the collaborative team of scientists discovered a frozen sea near the Martian equator which was reported in Nature in March 2005.